Passings: Alameda poet laureate Mary Rudge
Passings: Alameda poet laureate Mary Rudge
Mary Rudge and her daughter, Diana Rudge, at a Meet the Artists reception Saturday at Alameda Museum. Photo by George Hollie.
Mary Rudge, Alameda’s longtime poet laureate, has died.
Rudge typically declined to give her age. Friends said she had suffered a string of medical problems and had been in poor health, and that she passed peacefully on Monday.
Friends described Rudge as a woman who gave tirelessly to her community, raised a family and practiced her art in the face of incredible personal obstacles, traveling the world to spread her message of peace and working locally to boost literacy and access to her chosen form of expression.
“We’ve lost a real champion in poetry,” Natica Angilly, a longtime friend, said. “I don’t think any 25 people can do the work that she has done. She tried to really give of herself, always.”
Rudge was born Mary Woods in Los Angeles and grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, and her love of poetry came to her at a young age, even if it wasn’t encouraged by the teachers who recognized she was academically gifted or her family – led, she had said, by a father whose difficulty finding work during the Depression prompted beatings when young Mary was too noisy. The two books available to Rudge in her early youth were the dictionary and the Bible, she said in interviews, and she was an avid reader.
But Rudge found inspiration when, as a high school student, she attended readings by the poet Langston Hughes and novelist Louis L’Amour, according to a piece in Bay Area Poets Review. And she found it, she said, in Bertolt Brecht’s “To Posterity,” which made a case for the importance of kindness.
Rudge’s first husband died in a car accident, leaving behind her and a child; she and her second, a Navy seaman, divorced after their six children were born, leaving Rudge alone to raise seven children here in Alameda and to once again endure the sting of poverty.
“My mom was an amazing lady,” one of her daughters, Diana Rudge, said.
In addition to being an advocate for peace, she wrote movingly of people who are poor and struggling; she penned poetry for Street Spirit, a newspaper that focuses on the struggles of people who are homeless and poor, that ended up in one of several volumes she wrote and edited.
“She really was a champion for not only children, women – anybody that could use help, she’d try to help,” Angilly said.
Rudge taught art and history at schools in Oakland and Alameda, her daughter, Diana, said; she studied in Mexico and attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.
Angilly said Rudge was first active on the local art scene, but ultimately found hauling art from gallery to gallery to be too grueling. So she returned to poetry.
“She decided to go to poetry because you can carry a pencil and paper and go anywhere,” Angilly said.
Rudge started countless poetry organizations here and traveled the world with her friend Angilly, a dancer, and as a delegate for the World Congress of Poets, sharing the work of Bay Area poets wherever she went, Angilly said. Her 1986 volume, “Water planet: Poems,” included a preface by Leopold Sédar Senghor, the Senegalese president and poet.
For a decade, she edited and published “Poets and Peace International,” which was read in 10 countries; Rudge also co-edited “State of Peace: The Women Speak.”
Here in Alameda – Rudge’s home of more than 50 years – she worked to introduce poetry to students, starting an annual student poetry contest. And she worked to put local poets laureate in place in cities across the Bay Area, joining their ranks as Alameda’s in 2002.
“She was a lovely woman who traveled the world to bring poetry back to Alameda, that was always her goal. She was a real treasure,” said Joyce Jenkins, editor of the Berkeley-based Poetry Flash literary review.
Rudge was also an expert on the life and times of the writer Jack London, who lived in Alameda for a few years of his childhood. She released an update of one book, “Jack London’s Neighborhood,” in September, and she gave a talk on London this past Saturday at the Alameda Museum.
In addition to the poet laureate title, which she held until her death, Rudge earned a string of honors that included the California Federation of Chaparral Poets’ Golden Pegasus trophy, honorary degrees and a “Princess of Poetry” honor in Italy. In May, she received a lifetime achievement award at the Berkeley Poetry Festival.
“Alameda has lost not only a wonderful poet, but a great inspiration,” Mayor Marie Gilmore said of Rudge’s passing. “She was an Alameda treasure will be missed.”
Rudge, a devout Catholic, will be buried at the Dominican Cemetery in Benicia, her daughter said.
An already-scheduled Artists Embassy International event this Saturday at the Alameda Museum will be dedicated to Rudge.